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Important Concepts

Before we get started with the civics and government lessons, we will go over some of the fundamental documents and concepts relatied to the functioning of the government of the United States.

The Declaration of Independence is the document in which the thirteen new American colonies declared themselves to be independent of Great Britain and explained their justifications for desiring this independence. On July 4, 1776, it was ratified by the Continental Congress, and thus, this day became Independence Day in the United States. The independence of the American colonies was recognized by Great Britain on September 3, 1783 by the†Treaty of Paris.††

The United States Constitution was written in 1787 and remains the law of the land today. The U.S. Constitution calls for three branches of government - the executive, legislative, and judicial - to maintain a system of checks and balances that keep any one branch from becoming too powerful. This concept of the separation of power is in place to avoid centralization and the possibility of tyranny.

When changes or additions are needed, amendments are made. Thus far, there are 26 amendments to the Constitution. The first ten amendments were called the Bill of Rights when they were added in 1791. Here is the general content of the first four amendments:

Amendment †I. Protects the freedoms of speech, press,

religion, the right to assemble and the right to petition

Amendment II. The right to bear arms

Amendment III. Prohibits any soldier from being housed in

a citizenís home during times of peace

Amendment IV. Prohibits the search or seizure of a personís

property without both probable cause and a warrant


The Presidential Government: This is the type of government employed by the United States. In it, the president is the head of the executive branch of the government. This means that he (or she!)†is in charge of carrying out the law. The executive is elected independently of the legislature. A presidential election is held every 4 years and one president cannot serve more than 2 terms (or 8 years). While the President embodies a powerful and important role, he/she is not free to make any decision he/she wants. For example, he/she must consult with Congress before declaring war on another country. A candidate must be at least 35 years old to run for President of the U.S., be a natural-born U.S. citizen, and have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years before being elected


Parliamentary Government: The policy-making executives are the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. They are all members of the legislature and are dependent on the support of the legislature in order to stay in office. In this form of government, carried out by the British, executive authority is dependent on the legislature. It is†in this way that†it differs from the American system of separation of powers.

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